by Shelley Poplak
From Arts and Culture Lanna
In Thailand, herbal steam is an age-old tradition, which, like massage, has been passed down through generations of skilled practitioners in rural temples. Thai herbal medicine incorporates components from various other traditional healing arts including Ayurvedic remedies from India, Chinese medicine and Theravada Buddhist traditions. The medicinal steam vapor was used traditionally to treat skin ailments, muscle stress, and respiratory problems. There are a host of other benefits to be derived from the herbal steam: improved circulation, relief from tension, ridding the body of toxins, clearing respiratory passages, aiding digestion, soothing aching muscles, cleansing and rejuvenating the skin, and promoting sound sleep.
In the old days, the monastic herbal practitioner would collect a mixture of fresh and dried essential herbs for the specific occasion or patient. The roots and rhizomes included turmeric, prai (closely related to ginger), lemongrass, bergamot lime, camphor and tamarind leaves, among others. Often, the specific combination depended on what was naturally available in nearby kitchen gardens or forests.
An added benefit of the herbal steam is to prepare the body for a massage. Whatever herbal oil or warming rub the masseuse applies will be absorbed more readily after the herbal steam. Also, warm and relaxed post-herbal steam muscles can be more easily stretched by the masseur.
How to Steam:
Ideally, you should sit or recline for short periods of time (between 5 and 15 minutes). Some people like to spend only about five minutes in the heat at a time, and then cool off outside and repeat.
When Not to Steam:
It is not advisable to use the herbal steam if you have a history of heart disease, high blood pressure, or asthma. Also inadvisable to steam if you have a fever or an inflammatory disease or injury, if you are in your first trimester of pregnancy or if you have been drinking alcohol.